Friday, November 03, 2006

What do you get...

...when you mix a Malagasy-speaking community health advisor, a French-speaking British volunteer, another British volunteer photographer and a BBC reporter with a free day in a regional town that’s hosting a concert from one of Madagascar’s hottest pop stars?

Well, a journalistic contingent intent on seeing the show for free and getting backstage passes to boot of course!

This past weekend definitely ranks up there with one of the strangest weekends I have had in Madagascar. And it’s a honest relief to know that I haven’t completely exhausted the possibilities of strange in this country yet.

It started off with a hot and dusty Kôminina Mendrika festival in one of the towns to the south of Fianar. I’m afraid we really rather overwhelmed the poor community with the sheer number of foreigners there to attend this festival. First there was the NGO who implemented the project in the community, headed by Sam, our dear British friend. She had recently recruited two volunteers for her team – Jaz and Kat – who of course came to take in the festival. And then just for the fun of it, they invited down the newly-installed BBC correspondent to Madagascar on his first trip outside of the capital city.

Add to that that this was a combined festival for dedicating an electrification project just finished at the community’s clinic – solar panels, overhead lights and a solar-powered pump and water basin for supplying water – completed by Electricians without Borders (yes, everybody goes without borders these days, and they do fantastic work). So in all I think there were at least a dozen vazaha (white people) taking part in the day’s festivities.

But the real fun began the next day when we had time to kill in Ambalavao, the regional center, before moving on to the next festival on Monday. And Sunday afternoon was the much-anticipated Jerry Marcoss concert, so of course we just had to go. Sam had to return to Fianar, and the remaining four of us decided that if we were going to this concert, we were going to do it right. So I was appointed the BBC guy’s official Malagasy translator and tasked with getting us into the concert for free. That was all too easily done, and we stood for some time just taking in the sounds (actually pretty well managed by Malagasy standards) and sights (the Brits had yet to see the Malagasy dancers’ ability to shake booty) of a Malagasy pop concert.

But even that thrill wore off all too easily – so next step was getting the on-stage and back-stage pass. So back to employing my most valuable skill, keenly honed after 4 years in country, and immensely effective when shouted over high-decibel music. But it worked – and soon our intrepid photographer and correspondent were sharing the stage with our pop star and getting lots of good up-close shots of those shaking booties. Then, after 4 solid hours of non-stop booty-shaking and top of the lung screaming, we landed the big one – the back stage interview.

Unfortunately after all that the interview wound up being a bit of an anti-climax – our pop star was either too pooped or too intimidated to make much of a story, and he couldn’t seem to maintain a conversation in any single language but kept mixing Malagasy, French and English. But it goes down on the list of things I’ve never done before (and will probably never do again) – translated an interview backstage after a concert with a random performer.

I got to keep my job as translator for the rest of the trip when the SantéNet intern I’ve been working with on-and-off for the last couple of weeks came back, and then the BBC guy decided to attempt a few more stories. This isn’t half a bad gig– maybe I’ll keep this job.

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